Created: 24 May 2011 | Written by Dr. Wilson for Citrus County Chronicle
The Florida sun can quickly cause painful sunburn, but did you know that your body needs a certain amount of exposure to the sun to stay healthy? Vitamin D (often called the “sunshine vitamin”), synthesized by your skin when it is exposed to sunlight, is essential for building strong bones, regulating hormones and maintaining a healthy immune system. Although vitamin D occurs naturally in a few foods including fish (salmon, tuna, and mackerel), fish liver oils and egg yolks, and is an additive in milk, bread, and cereals, you cannot get enough of it from your diet alone.
Our ancestors naturally got enough sun exposure to produce the vitamin D their bodies needed. Today many of us work indoors all day and travel in cars. When we do go outside, we apply sunblock. Children increasingly spend time indoors watching television or playing video games. Glazed windows or sunblock with an SPF rating of 15 or higher block 99 percent of the ultraviolet B (UVB) rays necessary for the production of vitamin D.
According to a March 2010 report by the U.S. National Center for Health Statistics, about a fourth of the U.S. population is at risk for vitamin D inadequacy and 8 percent are at risk for vitamin D deficiency. In infants and children, a lack of vitamin D causes rickets (soft bones), bone deformities, and delayed dental formation. Vitamin D deficiency contributes to osteoporosis and is associated with sclerosis, hypertension, fatigue, mood swings, and depression. It is also linked to certain cancers, type 2 diabetes, and obesity.
During the summer months, your skin will produce enough vitamin D if you are exposed to the sun for 15 minutes (without sunblock) in the early morning and late afternoon. Skin with darker pigment (melanin) may require up to 40 minutes. If you work indoors, eat lunch outside two or three times a week, or take short walks during your breaks. Children and infants should be exposed to sunlight for 10 minutes before you apply sunscreen. Breast-fed infants are particularly susceptible to vitamin D deficiency if they do not regularly spend time outdoors without sunblock.
As your skin ages it becomes less efficient at producing vitamin D and certain health conditions including kidney problems or intestinal disorders, such as Crohn’s disease, may impair the body’s ability to absorb vitamin D from foods. Talk to your doctor about taking vitamin D supplements, especially if you spend a lot of time in a cold climate or regularly cover yourself up to avoid exposure to sunlight.
Once you have received your daily dose of sunlight, get out the sunscreen. After 15 minutes of exposure to the sun’s rays, your skin begins to redden and burn. Even, one severe sunburn can cause damage that could lead to skin cancer later on. If you are outdoors between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. daylight savings time (9 a.m. to 3 p.m. standard time):
Sunscreen products have a shelf life of about three years, but deteriorate more quickly in the heat. Sunscreen cannot do its job if it is not applied liberally. Follow the directions on the label and slather it on generously.